You need to use textbooks and other course materials efficiently.  Reading well is especially important in online learning, as you will usually find that a significant amount of the core content of your course is found in the readings your instructor assigns. 

The SQ3R method is helpful in getting the most out of your readings.  When reading 100+ pages each week, it can be difficult figuring out what to retain and sometimes it feels like we must memorize every piece of information we come across.  This guide will help you to efficiently summarize what you read into the most important points by using questions to help your comprehension and memory.

Survey, Question, Read, Recite, Review
Image Credit: Rawia Inaim

Survey (also called skimming and scanning)

Survey the title: Think about what you may already know about that topic.

Survey the introduction: It gives you an idea about how the chapter is organized, and what you will be learning.

Survey anything in bold: Subtitles are labels. Other bolded items may be definitions that you will need to know.

Survey the pictures, charts and graphs: Glance at these to pick out things that seem interesting or informative.

Survey the summary at the end: This will review and give you the key points in the chapter.

Survey the questions at the end of the chapter: These will help focus your attention on the main points.

Survey your course syllabus/course presentation and see what topics the Instructor is focusing on.


Write “Who, What, Where, When, Why, and How” questions for each subtitle or definition (you can do this as you progress through the reading).


Read to answer the first question (this answer will become your notes). Look for keywords.


Recite the answer to your question out loud. Do this as if you are explaining to a study partner.

Write this down in your own words – these are your notes.

Repeat for each question that you created.


Stand back and look at the chapter as a whole.

How do the ideas and facts you learned from each subsection fit together?

Review your notes to be sure they make sense to you.

Apply the SQ3R Method

How do you apply the SQ3R Method? View the video below for an example of how it works in practice.

Video Transcript: Now that you have learned the five steps in the SQ3R method, how will you apply them as you read?  In this video, you will view a demonstration of how this method is applied to the type of reading you might encounter in a course textbook.  I’ll focus on the first three steps in the method:  surveying the chapter, formulating questions, and reading to find key information.Today I’m going to read a chapter in an Organizational Behaviour Textbook on need-based theories of motivation – the same principles would apply to reading in other courses.  My first step is to survey.  I’ll skim the chapter quickly to get the main idea.

The first place I will begin is the Learning Objectives.  I notice that in this textbook, they are located at the beginning of the chapter.  I read these carefully to discover the main concepts that I will learn by reading.  The next part of the chapter I’ll review is the key takeaways at the end of the chapter.  Remember – there’s no rule that says that I need to read each page in order.  By reading the key takeaways, I gain a sense of the most important information in the chapter.  This will help me to focus my reading later.

Now, I’ll go back to the beginning of the chapter, and briefly skim the contents.  I’ll pay particular attention to the headings and to   any key diagrams.  I’m noticing a key diagram for both Maslow’s hierarchy of needs and the ERG theory.  I also notice two other key headings as I skim:  I now know I will read about two factor theory, and acquired needs theory.  From the information I’ve gained in the survey step, I’ve determined that my goals for reading are:

My next step is to begin questioning and reading.  I’ll base my questions on key headings I notice.  The first heading I read is Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs.  What questions can I ask about this?  You may want to pause this video here, and try to create 3-4 questions you might want to ask. Then, resume the video to see how the questioning process works.

Here are the questions I’ve developed:

  1. What is Maslow’s hierarchy of needs?
  2. What are the levels in Maslow’s hierarchy? (I remember that there are levels from my survey step)
  3. Why are there different levels in the hierarchy?
  4. How does Maslow’s theory explain employee behavior?

I’ve added my questions to my notetaking page.  I begin reading looking for the answer to my first question.  I find the answer here,  in the first paragraph.  The theory is based on a simple premise: Human beings have needs that are hierarchically ranked.  There are some needs that are basic to all human beings, and in their absence nothing else matters.  As we satisfy these basic needs, we start looking to satisfy higher order needs.

Now, I want to add this information to my notes.  To get the most benefit of this step, I will recite the information in my own words, then write it down.  The step of putting information into my own words ensures that I understand it clearly.

I pause and think about how I can express what I’ve read in my own words.  I can say it like this: Maslow’s theory states that everyone has levels (a hierarchy) of needs.  When our basic needs are met, we move to fulfill our higher levels of need.  I’ll now add this information to my notes.

You will notice that I have left a wide margin on my notetaking page. This space allows me to add additional thoughts, images, and questions about the material later on.  I may want to add additional information I learn in class.

I’ll move through the same steps to answer my other three questions.  You may want to pause this video here, and try these steps out for yourself.

As I’m reading, I will also take note of key terms in bold letters.  For example, I see that physiological needs is a key term in this chapter. These are words that I want to be able to define, as they are important to my understanding of the course material.

I will work through the chapter, following the same steps for each main chapter section:  create questions, read to find the answers, recite my answer, and write it in my notes in my own words.

Now that you have seen how the SQ3R method might be applied to a textbook chapter, try it!  Notice how this changes your reading process?  How do you want to use this information to read in the future?

Next: Take Effective Notes